Thursday, April 23, 2009
KARACHI: Drag flick ace Sohail Abbas and seasoned striker Rehan Butt have been passed as fit by their coach Shahid Ali Khan as Pakistan stepped up their preparations for next month's Asia Cup in Kuantan, Malaysia.
Shahid told 'The News' on Wednesday that both Sohail and Rehan - who have reported for duty at the national training camp that got underway in Lahore earlier this week - look in good shape and hoped that the return of these senior players and a couple more would improve Pakistan's chances in the eight-nation event.
"Sohail looks fine," said Shahid who is at the helm of the Asia Cup preparatory camp that will continue till Pakistan's departure for Malaysia on May 2. Pakistan are eyeing a shot at the title in the May 9-15 tournament that will serve as a qualifying event for next year's World Cup in India. "He looks physically fit. We had a few penalty corner drills today and it's quite evident that the power is very much there," he added.
Pakistan are pinning their hopes in Sohail's goal-scoring prowess off short corners. The Karachi-based Sohail is regarded among the best drag flick experts in world hockey and holds the record for the highest number of goals in international hockey.
Shunned by Pakistan since the 2006 World Cup in Germany for skipping a national training camp, Sohail has mostly played club hockey in Europe in recent years.
Skeptics have raised questions over the logic of recalling him after such a long gap and have instead called for the inclusion of fresh blood in the national side.
They also question the wisdom behind inducting those players in the national team for the Asia Cup who have just played club hockey in recent times.
Shahid, however, disagrees with them and is of the view that players like Sohail and Rehan should bolster Pakistan's hopes in the Asia Cup.
The Pakistan coach said that players like Sohail and Rehan have kept themselves fit by playing for their clubs in Holland. "They both seem to be match fit and are hungry to be back in international hockey," he said.
Rehan, a former Pakistan skipper, has joined the camp while two more senior players - Waseem Ahmed and Salman Akber - are set to report for national duty soon.
"Waseem should join the camp soon while Salman will report on the 28th," said Shahid.
The quartet of senior players will appear in the Asia Cup trials to be held at the National Hockey Stadium in Lahore on April 29.
Pakistan are hoping to name an 18-man squad capable of winning the Asia Cup. The former Asia Cup champions are placed in Pool B of the tournament with old rivals India, China and minnows Bangladesh.
The News International
TENAGA Nasional were let off the hook by Malacca as both sides drew their Malaysian Hockey League quarter-final second leg 2-2 at the KLHA Stadium yesterday.
Malacca should have won the match in the first half as they were awarded four penalty corners. However, all attempts were fruitless.
Tenaga took the lead in the 56th minute through Faiz Adnan off a penalty corner flick before Malacca leveled the score four minutes later through a Syakir Kamaruddin field attempt.
Amir Aminuddin Abu restored Tenaga's lead in the 63rd minute and it seemed then that victory was theirs.
Tenaga will face Bandar Penawar Sports School (BPSS), who defeated Nur Insafi 9-3 on aggregate.
Tenaga coach Nor Azlan Bakar was not amused with the way his charges' played yesterday.
"I am very unhappy with the boys. They don't know how to defend a lead and the defence is extremely weak. I need to prepare them thoroughly for the semi-finals," said Nor Azlan.
Nor Azlan also played down his team's chances in the semi-finals.
"My players need to improve or face a thrashing. BPSS are the favourites."
In Ipoh, Petaling Jaya City Council (PJCC) easily defeated Anderson 3-0 to win 6-0 on aggregate for a spot in the semi-finals.
Their opponents are Division Two champions Bukit Jalil Sports School (BJSS), who thrashed Temerloh 17-0 on aggregate.
PJCC coach Paul Raj said he will work on new strategies to prepare his players for BJSS.
"BJSS are good but not invincible. They can be beaten provided my boys have a solid game plan," said Paul in Ipoh yesterday.
RESULTS -- Q-final 2nd leg: Temerloh 0 Bukit Jalil Sports School 8 (BJSS win 17-0 on aggregate); Bandar Penawar Sports School 5 Nur Insafi 1 (BPSS win 9-3 on aggregate); Tenaga Nasional 2 Malacca 2 (Tenaga win 5-4 on aggregate); Anderson 0 Petaling Jaya CC 3 (PJ SS win 6-0 on aggregate).
FIXTURES (S-Finals-1st leg)) -- Tomorrow: Tenaga Nasional v Bandar Penawar Sports School (KLHA Stadium, Pantai, 5pm); Bukit Jalil Sports School v Petaling Jaya CC (National Hockey Stadium, Bukit Jalil, 7.30pm).
MALAYSIA face a tough opener against South Korea in the Asia Cup and the May 9 match may prove crucial in their hope of qualifying for the semi-finals in Kuantan.
National coach Tai Beng Hai saidopening matches are always difficult and Korea will also face similar problems.
"It does not matter who we meet in the opening match as eventually we have to play all the best teams to achieve our target," said Beng Hai yesterday.
"My players, after the recent success in the Azlan Shah Cup, are raring for action. It is good that the players are high on confidence."
The Malaysian Hockey Federation (MHF) has set a top-four target for the team.
Beng Hai and his players will move to their training base at the Kuantan Hockey Stadium on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, the Malaysian players were awarded RM2,000 each for their effort in the recent Azlan Shah Cup. Malaysia were beaten 3-1 by India in the final.
Group A: South Korea, Japan, Malaysia, Sri Lanka; Group B: Pakistan, India, China, Bangladesh.
Fixtures -- May 9: Japan v Sri Lanka, India v Bangladesh, South Korea v Malaysia, Pakistan v China; May 10: China v Bangladesh, India v Pakistan; May 11: Malaysia v Sri Lanka, Japan v South Korea; May 12: Pakistan v Bangladesh, China v India, South Korea v Sri Lanka, Malaysia v Japan; May 14: Semi-finals; May 15: Classification; May 16: 3/4th placing and final.